Before World War II, there were about 50,000 Jews living in Salonica (or Thessaloniki), the largest Jewish community in Greece. Between March and August 1943, the Germans deported more than 45,000 Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing camp. Most of the deportees were gassed on arrival. Because this represented the decimation of a community, it would go down as an especially dark moment in the darkest chapter of Jewish history.
But a few Jews managed to survive the massacre.
Two of those survivors gave birth to a man, Albert Bourla, who is now at the center of the biggest public health crisis of modern times. Dr. Bourla is the CEO and chairman of Pfizer, one of the pharmaceutical firms leading the charge to get the world vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
Let’s sit with that for a moment.
A son of Holocaust survivors has helped provide the vaccine that will save countless lives, not just around the world but also in the country of Jewish refuge, Israel. There was no refuge for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, nor for Bourla’s fellow Greek Jews who were gassed at Auschwitz. Today there is.
Consider the speed with which Israel is getting its people vaccinated. We know that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made numerous calls to Bourla to make sure Israel would have enough doses. As Rabbi David Woznica of Stephen Wise Temple says in a moving video recounting this story, “Israel has managed to vaccinate such a large swath of its citizens with the vaccination created by a company led by the son of Holocaust survivors from a country where only a fraction of its Jews survived. I hope you’ll agree there’s something remarkable about all of this.”
There is, indeed.
The very sequence of the Holocaust followed by the birth of Israel is haunting. Within a few years, Jews went from the lowest to the highest, the darkest to the brightest, the pits of despair to the heights of hope. They went from the verdict of death to the promise of life.
A vaccine is the antidote to death. A Greek Jew who hails from a community of death is now spreading the hope of life. Eight decades after the massacre of Salonica, Albert Bourla stands as an enduring testament to the power of resiliency—for Jews and for humanity.